My Web Summit 2014

Web Summit

I’ve just got home from three days at Web Summit in Dublin, Paddy Cosgrove’s huge SXSW-style convention for startups and investors. With 22,000 people gathered from around the world, several stages running parallel conference tracks – and Bono as a high profile speaker,  at times it felt more like a music festival than a conventional conference.

I was lucky enough to be offered a free ticket by Web Summit, as part of an initiative to encourage more women to attend. This was admirable on the organisation’s part. It also shows how much work there still is to do on this issue in our industry.

However, I felt immediately at home in this creative, busy environment. There were a lot of women in tech present, and people were super-friendly and helpful. Although this was a business and marketing environment, it was the best vibe I’ve experienced at a major tech event.

So I had a fascinating time watching a range of talks, making new contacts and checking out the innovations on show. I was with Dan Richardson and we took printed copies of our beautiful Stories That Scale books and shared them with the people we met.

Of the presentations, a highlight was Cathryn Posey’s inspirational talk Women In Tech: It’s About All Of Us, which though it contained some standard stuff for those of us already championing this area, was still inspiring. Posey provides useful ammunition on the universal benefits of achieving improved gender balance. The room was full and her talk went down well, not only with women, which was encouraging to see.

I loved being sat in between friends from two local startups (Say Digital in Lewes and Think Again in Hove) each run by men and women in equal leadership roles, and for whom it isn’t an issue, or an aim – just simple reality (Brilliant Noise is an example of this progressive leadership too). Lots of women in the Q&A testified about their own positive experiences, which was genuinely moving.

One of the most interesting panels was Battlezone, where Mark Little of Storyful, Vice News’ Kevin Sutcliffe and Matt McAlister of Time discussed the role of social media in global news. No surprises but Vice have powerfully re-positioned themselves in the trenches of ‘good’ edgy news content generation. They argue that the core tenets of journalism stay true (source verification, objective reporting, etc.) regardless of the platforms and “citizen journalism” is the wrong name, because although citizens can now share and report and testify to what happened to them, it still requires the trained intermediaries in ‘real’ media to verify this.

Gary Marcus, NYU Professor of Cognitive Science, gave a fascinating talk on the medical and psychological benefits of virtual reality (using Oculus Rift). We saw the first ever live demonstration of his “brave mind therapy” system, to help military service personnel returning from war zones.

Quite apart from medical use, it’s clear that in the not so distant future we will be able to throw on a pair of sunglasses and be transported – for example, making virtual meetings around the world feel real and immersive.

In the pop-up cinema I watched a most eloquent and sensitive telling of the life of Alan Turing (ahead of release). I thoroughly recommend seeing ‘The Imitation Game’ with Benedict Cumberbatch as Turing.

Overall, a fantastically well-run event. Great atmosphere, attention to detail, lovely locally-sourced food and treats in the buffet, all soaked in founder Paddy Cosgrove’s ‘surfer dude’ vibe. Dublin is very proud of Web Summit and vice versa.

Rifa is a senior producer at Brilliant Noise and organiser of SheSays Brighton.